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Unsung Heroes - An NWSL Series: Matchday 2

The next installment in our series highlights Lauren Milliet and Olivia Van der Jagt’s contributions this past week.

NWSL: OL Reign at NJ/NY Gotham FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back. See, I told you I’d be back. Applaud me now, because it’s going to get harder for me each week. This is as much of an accountability practice (for myself) as it is a practice to uplift the players in this league that don’t get the headlines.

This week started way too early on a Saturday for those of us on the west coast, and ended with the type of pure, uncut chaos that you only get in the NWSL. There were several players eligible for the Unsung Hero title this week, but I have settled on two below that I think deserve some flowers. Let’s get into it.

Lauren Milliet - RMW/RB - Racing Louisville

Racing Louisville right back Lauren Milliet goes up to win the ball in the air with her head, wearing the Racing Houndstooth pattern kit of purple and black
Lauren Milliet shows aerial ability with header against Washington Spirit
EM Dash-USA TODAY Sports

Racing Louisville has picked up 2 points in their first two matches, thanks in part to a much improved back line. Goalkeeper Katie Lund has some of the best numbers in the league, but Louisville made a trade to strengthen their backline by acquiring the rights of, and signing, Carson Pickett and Abbey Erceg from the North Carolina Courage. One of the biggest benefactors from this trade has been Lauren Milliet. One of the two original Racing Louisville players left on the squad, and appearing in her 50th cap during the match, Milliet has been given much more freedom to join the attack this season. In the clip below, her ability to run the outside channel for much of the second half, working in tandem with Rebecca Holloway to give cover to the spaces she leaves and along with an interchange of Savannah DeMelo or Wang Shuang joining her for overlapping runs and crosses in; Lauren Milliet provides ample opportunities to Louisville’s talented goal scorers.

Lauren Milliet is due to have her best season to date, primarily due to a backline and goalkeeper who can give her freedom to play multiple roles within a game. She is Racing’s utility player and she makes them a dangerous team going forward.

Olivia Van der Jagt - CDM - OL Reign

Olivia Van der Jagt making a turn after winning the ball off of McCall Zebroni of Gotham FC. Gotham wearing black and teal home kits, OL Reign wearing their white legacy kits with one red and one blue stripe down the center.
Olivia Van der Jagt working to win the ball off of the Gotham midfield
Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Olivia Van der Jagt, or “OLO” as she’s called by almost everyone, is becoming one of the better defensive midfielders currently playing in the NWSL. Van der Jagt came in as a substitute last week for OL Reign against the Washington Spirit, and while her impact was felt, it was too little, too late to help salvage points for her team. This week, Van der Jagt got the start in place of an injured Quinn and in a double pivot with Emily Sonnett. With Van der Jagt’s presence, particularly in duels in the defensive and middle third, it gave cover to Sonnett to possess more and push forward more. In addition, Van der Jagt is being asked to cover more open space in the middle as Alana Cook pushes forward more from the center back position. She was up for the challenge against Gotham, with 55 total touches, and all but three in the defense or middle third. Olivia Van der Jagt has won 100% of her challenges over her first two matches and her mid range passes have been completed at almost 82%, 81.8 to be exact. In other words, with Quinn out for OL Reign at the beginning of the year, Van der Jagt has been tasked, along with Sam Hiatt and Lauren Barnes, with covering the open space in the middle as Sofia Huerta, Cook and Sonnett push forward to progress the ball to OL Reign’s attackers. Van der Jagt worked well to cover the holes, made timely, accurate passes, and was able to keep Gotham from finding joy through the middle and on the inside of the wingers. Gotham did most of their damage out wide, where OL Reign was then able to mitigate the threats most of the night. There is a calmness to her presence, a trust that Laura Harvey seems to have in her at a young age. Olivia Van der Jagt is beginning to be, and will probably continue to be, a very important player for OL Reign’s quest to repeat as Shield winners.

That’s all for now. I’m signing off until our next matchday weekend where the first match will see the Portland Thorns host the Houston Dash on CBS Sports.